By Tim Stephens
Deputy Managing Editor, CBSSports.com
With APSE launching student chapters this fall, I put together a survey of journalism educators, sports journalism hiring managers and sports journalism students/recent graduates to learn more about the priorities in the classroom as well as the priorities in the newsroom. The goal is to outline where the interests of universities and the newsrooms are in alignment as well as areas upon which they could work together to strengthen the connection of interests and priorities. As chairman of the APSE student liaison committee, I will use this feedback to work on APSE’s behalf with the universities that are making investments in the future of sports journalism.
The information also will create opportunities to develop the university student chapters and to develop partnerships with universities and news organizations to create an educational experience for student members of APSE.
Respondents were granted anonymity.
Sports journalism survey results
About the hiring managers surveyed
A total of 53 hiring managers responded to a 49-question survey administered between July 9, 2014 and July 28, 2014. The survey was housed by SurveyMonkey.com and sent to sports editors/hiring managers via email invitation.
Survey respondents represented all geographic regions of the United States and all four major circulation categories of the Associated Press Sports Editors organization:
1. under-30,000 daily circulation/less than 500,000 monthly unique website visitors;
2. 30,001-75,000 daily circulation/less than 1 million monthly unique website visitors;
3. 75,001-175,000 daily circulation/1 million-1,999,999 monthly unique website visitors;
4. over 175,000 daily circulation/more than 2 million monthly unique website visitors.
Of the respondents, 89 percent had made at least one hire and 22 percent had made more than five hires in the past three years. Eleven percent of respondents said they had made no hires during the previous three years.
About the educators surveyed
A total of 43 educators responded to a 55-question survey administered between July 9, 2014 and July 28, 2014. The survey was housed by SurveyMonkey.com and sent to journalism educators via email invitation and weblink.
Survey respondents represented all geographic regions of the United States at public and private universities ranging from less than 5,000 undergraduate enrollment to more than 20,000 undergraduate enrollment. All survey respondents had earned at least a Bachelor’s degree. Sixty-three percent of respondents held a Master’s degree and six held a Doctorate. Respondents included tenured professors, associate professors, assistant professors, student media advisers, senior fellows and administrators.
Participants also included educators who are the members of the Associated Press Sports Editors, faculty advisers for APSE student chapters and advisers who are members of either the College Media Association or the Western Association of University Publications Managers.
Of the respondents, 88 percent said they had at least some prior experience as a newsroom employee before moving into academia. Two respondents said they remain employed by a news organization while also working at a university. Only two respondents said they had never worked in a professional newsroom at all.
Twenty percent of respondents said they work at a university that offers either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in sports journalism. Almost 70 percent of respondents said they work at a university that offers no specialization at all in sports journalism at this time.
About the students/graduates surveyed
A total of 54 students or recent graduates responded to a 49-question survey administered between July 9, 2014 and July 28, 2014. The survey was housed by SurveyMonkey.com and sent to students/graduates via email invitation and weblink.
Survey participants represented all geographic regions of the nation and ranged between current sports journalism students or graduate students as well as graduates within the past three years.
Participants included students members of the Associated Press Sports Editors; students who have submitted applications as prospective charter members of new APSE student chapters; student participants in the Sports Journalism Institute; student participants in the Orlando Sentinel High School Sports Reporting Institute; recent interns or recent hires of APSE newspaper members as well as students whose advisers are members of either the College Media Association or the Western Association of University Publications Managers.
Survey respondents represented public and private universities ranging from under-5,000 undergraduate enrollment to more than 20,000 enrollment and ranged from students who will be college freshmen in Fall 2014 to current doctoral candidates. Twenty-seven of the respondents had completed at least a Bachelor’s degree. Fifty-one percent of respondents had completed at least one internship and 14 worked full-time as a professional journalist. Twenty-two respondents are currently working for student media.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents attended or are attending a university that does not offer a specialization or courses specific to sports journalism. Twelve percent said they attended/are attending a university that offers an undergraduate degree in sports journalism and six percent said they did or are attending a university that offers a Master’s degree in sports journalism.
Trends and takeaways from survey
— Hiring managers, journalism educators and students/recent graduates remain optimistic about careers in sports journalism, but educators and students/recent graduates have stronger feelings than their potential employers. While only 8 percent of hiring managers said they were pessimistic about the future of careers in sports journalism, only 9 percent were strongly optimistic and a whopping 36 percent were neither optimistic or pessimistic. In contrast, 21 percent of educators and 33 percent of students/graduates were strongly optimistic of career opportunities. More than 10 percent of students, however, were pessimistic about their career futures.
— Many hiring managers would leave the newsroom if they could. Almost 25 percent of surveyed hiring managers said they envision themselves teaching as a university journalism professor at some point in their careers, and 39 percent had moderate to strong feelings that they would leave the newsroom to teach if they could.
— When it comes to being prepared to work in a newsroom, educators and students held stronger confidence in the quality of their education than did hiring managers. Fourteen percent of hiring managers expressed negative answers when asked if universities are teaching the skills required to be successful in their newsroom. An additional 38 percent held no opinion and only 4 percent strongly believed universities are adequately preparing students for their newsroom. In contrast, seventy-eight percent of students/graduates said their university is teaching the skills required for them to be successful in today’s newsrooms, and only 9 percent expressed moderate to strong negative feelings. Seventy-two percent of educators had moderate to strong positive beliefs toward newsroom preparedness, although 16 percent of respondents said their university is NOT teaching the skills required for success in today’s newsrooms.
One student respondent agreed with hiring managers who were critical of graduates’ basic reporting skills. “I think that social media has been pushed so hard that students are not developed in a specific area of expertise. I can’t tell you how many students/professional sports journalists [I have met] who don’t even know how to keep their own stats or how to FOIA (or even what that stands for). Yikes!”
— All three groups did not hold strongly favorable views of a sports-journalism-specific degree in terms of it preparing an applicant to succeed in the newsroom. However, hiring managers and educators were more convinced than students/graduates who responded to the survey. Thirty-eight percent of hiring managers said a sports-journalism specific degree would make a candidate more prepared to succeed, while 49 percent held no opinion and 14 percent disagreed. Educators’ answers were similar: 37 percent held moderate-to-strong positive views, 42 percent held no opinion and 21 percent held moderate-to-strong negative views. Among students, 39 percent of respondents held positive views, 33 percent held no opinion and 27 percent held negative views.
“The value of a sports journalism degree or an internship are highly overrated,” one educator said. “I’ve consistently found that employers are far more likely to consider and hire applicants with strong clips obtained in college. While an internship certainly can provide students with an opportunity to hone skills and compile strong work samples, often it’s participation at a student publication or station that allows students to practice, fail, mature, learn and eventually succeed in building a sturdy foundation in journalism.”
For hiring managers, the curriculum taught in a sports-journalism program would be extremely important to its value.
“I don’t think a ‘sports journalism’ program is necessary to succeed in our business, but if the program is teaching the right skills about game coverage, writing critique, ethics, media law, FOIA/Sunshine, etc., it certainly gives those candidates a leg up in the process,” one hiring manager said.
— Hiring managers have not yet interviewed or hired significant numbers of graduates with sports-journalism-specific educations. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they had not hired, or did not know if they had hired, a graduate with that background. However, the hiring managers did generally believe that such a degree would distinguish a job candidate. Forty-seven percent of hiring managers agreed with that statement, with 8 percent strongly agreeing with it. No hiring managers strongly disagreed. Educators were slightly less enthusiastic: 49 percent agreed that a such a degree would distinguish students and 5 percent strongly agreed while 19 percent disagreed. Student/graduate respondents were more polarized in their answers with 70 percent saying that they agreed or strongly agreed that a sports-journalism degree would distinguish them among candidates. With that said, sports hiring managers did not seem to strongly value such a degree. Forty-two percent neither disagreed nor agreed with the statement that a degree that emphasized sports journalism would be valuable to an employer such as them. Only 7 percent were moderately to strongly unfavorable, however, while 51 percent held moderate to strong favorable views. Only 46 percent of educators held moderate to strong positive views while 63 percent of students/graduates held moderate-to-strong favorable views.
— Students and educators believe more strongly than hiring managers that the quality of their journalism education distinguishes them in the job market. Sixty percent of educators and 76 percent of students/graduates held moderate-to-strong positive views that the quality of education at their university will separate them from other candidates in the job market. Forty-five percent of hiring managers held no opinion at all while 43 percent held moderately positive views.
— Educators and students are much stronger believers than hiring managers in the value of a well-rounded liberal arts education to success as a journalist. Ninety percent of educator respondents held moderate to strong beliefs that a liberal arts education is essential to success and only one respondent answered negatively. Sixty-five percent of students/graduates answered positively. Conversely, 24 percent of hiring managers said a well-rounded liberal arts education is not essential to success and 38 percent held no opinion. Only eight percent of hiring manager respondents strongly agreed that a liberal arts education is important to success.
— All three groups are in agreement that recent graduates possess strong multimedia skills. Eighty-seven percent of hiring managers, 75 percent of educators and 89 percent of students/graduates answered moderately to strongly positive about recent graduates’ abilities to shoot, edit and post video/sound/photos and recognize its essential nature to a journalist’s job.
— Universities have greatly increased the emphasis on multimedia skills, but hiring managers are concerned it is coming at the expense of basic reporting skills. Students and educators were asked if recent graduates (within the past three years) at their university are receiving better training in multimedia skills than the graduates who preceded them. Among educators, 90 percent held moderate to strong positive beliefs. Among students/graduates, 87 percent held moderate to strong positive beliefs and only one respondent among 54 answered negatively. Hiring managers were asked the same question, with a follow-up asking if they found recent graduates to be lacking in fundamental reporting skills. Fifty-eight percent held strong to moderate beliefs that candidates are lacking in fundamental skills. Only 11 percent disagreed with that statement.
“Now that everyone can edit video, it no longer is a plus,” one hiring manager said. “I need a reporter.”
— Hiring managers are concerned about recent graduates’ knowledge of basic reporting skills. Twenty-six percent of hiring-manager respondents expressed moderate to strong negative feelings when asked if recent graduates they have seen as job candidates in the past three years have the ability to obtain information from public records requests and by research and interviews. While that is lower than the number of positive respondents (36 percent), it is an alarming number nonetheless, especially when paired with 38 percent of respondents holding no strong opinion at all. Conversely, only 13 percent of educators and students held moderate to strong negative views, and 73 percent of educators and 66 percent of students/graduates held moderate to strong beliefs that they do have strong basic reporting skills.
Said one hiring manager: “Some schools are doing a better job than others with the new breed of journalists. I have seen a dip in the quality of reporting skills.”
“I have found that candidates today are better prepared for providing info on different platforms and are more proficient at multi-tasking,” one hiring manager said. “While helpful, that doesn’t mean they are better reporters and/or writers than the candidates before them.”
Not every hiring manager sees this as a problem.
“It’s a buyer’s market. These kids coming out of school don’t have all the reporting skills that past generations of journalists had, but for [news organization redacted] to resonate as a relevant brand in an all-digital space, that’s a sacrifice well worth making,” one hiring manager said. “The payoff is in their multimedia skill sets. In that respect, these kids are ready to walk into our newsroom and make valuable contributions right away. They understand what news readers will want to consume, how to deliver it to them and how to maximize its reach without leaning on website promotion. Our younger hires and interns have added an important element of diversity to a newsroom that already had its share of strong journalists.”
— Hiring managers believe a large percentage of recent graduates lack knowledge of legal issues that relate specifically to journalism. Forty-two percent of hiring managers held negative views while only 16 percent held positive views that recent graduates have good legal knowledge. Conversely, 70 percent of educators and 57 percent of students/graduates held moderate to strong positive views.
The job market
— Hiring managers, educators and students/graduates disagree on whether recent graduates and students have realistic expectations of their place in the job market and skill level. Sixty one percent of student respondents say they have realistic expectations, compared to 56 percent of educators. However, 44 percent of hiring managers held moderate to strong belief that recent graduates DO NOT have realistic expectations and assessments of their skill level. Only one respondent of the 53 hiring managers held a strong belief that recent graduates/students accurately assess their place in the job market.
“A lot (of the recent graduates) expect to be hired by ESPN right away,” one hiring manager said.
— There is a disconnect between students and their educators and potential employers about how effectively they pursue jobs. Students believe they know how to write effective resumes and cover letters that will help their work stand out against more experienced job candidates, but educators and hiring managers do not share that view as confidently. Only three percent of student/graduate respondents answered moderately to strongly negative when asked if they know how to assemble resumes, cover letters and work samples in a way that helps their work stand out. Eighty percent held moderate to strong positive views. Conversely, 24 percent of hiring managers and 14 percent of educators held moderate to strong negative views of recent graduates’ knowledge in this area.
“I am amazed at how someone who wants a job in journalism can’t write a quality cover letter. I toss their application if it is as bad as some that I have seen in the last three years,” said one hiring manager.
— Hiring managers and educators see opportunities growing for recent graduates. Sixty-two percent of hiring managers answered moderately to strongly positively when asked if salary requirements in their departments have led them to consider less-experienced applicants than they may have considered in the past. Eighty-four percent of educators held moderate to strong beliefs that this is true. Conversely, 41 percent of students/graduates held no opinion at all.
“Salary requirements have been an issue for me,” one hiring manager said. “Reporters with a few years of experience usually ask for a higher salary than my company offers.”
But not every hiring manager agrees. Smaller and mid-sized news organizations may find they are able to compete for experienced job candidates in a way that they did not previously.
“If anything, I am looking at better qualified candidates than my predecessors have because while our salaries have stayed the same, those of so many other organizations have come down closer to our level,” one hiring manager said.
What this means, if true, is that recent graduates with strong skills sets may be able to compete for jobs at larger organizations that they may have previously thought unattainable but they may also find more competition against experienced journalists in smaller organizations that previously would have been viewed as entry-level opportunities for them.
— Hiring managers and educators believe personal relationships are essential to recruiting but they are not connecting effectively with each other.
All three subsets believed moderately to strongly in significant majority that personal relationships are important to recruiting candidates to their departments. All three subsets also generally gave themselves high marks for their networking abilities. All three subsets were asked to list the means by which they identify candidate or opportunities for themselves or their departments. Company websites and industry websites were listed by all three groups as well as a series of other questions related to networking.
These inconsistencies stood out:
— 95 percent of educators listed “professional networking contacts” compared to only 58 percent of hiring managers.
— Only 36 percent of hiring managers said they relied on university contacts to help identify job candidates.
— 53 percent of educators and 31 percent of students relied on job fairs. Yet only 11 percent of hiring managers listed job fairs as a means by which they identify candidates.
— 33 percent of students/graduates moderately to strongly disagreed with the statement that their university had helped them meet hiring managers.
Student media opportunities and internships
— Educators place a lot more emphasis on student-media experience than hiring managers do. While this experience was not discounted by hiring managers — only 4 percent of hiring managers took a negative view of the statement that they look closely at student media experience in job candidates who are recent graduates — their views were not as favorable as those of educators. Ninety-eight percent of educators had moderate to strong positive views to the statement that hiring managers look closely at student media opportunities, with a whopping 49 percent saying they “strongly” agree with that statement. Conversely, only 17 percent of hiring managers answered “strongly” to that question, and 21 percent answered “neither agree nor disagree” to the statement. Students/graduates were more balanced in their answers, with 9 percent disagreeing with the statement and 11 percent holding no opinion. A solid 61 percent agreed but only 19 percent “strongly” agreed compared to the much higher rate of educators.
One hiring manager explained why student-media might not be as valued as educators believe.
“While I look at the on-campus media experiences, I view them as foundational experiences — something a candidate must have just to enter the pool,” the hiring manager said. “However, it is the off-campus opportunities — internships, long-term/ongoing freelance relationships, part-time media jobs, etc. for which the individual needed to compete to obtain that I place more value on (again, depending on how much and in what ways those experiences are reflected in the available print and digital work portfolio.)”